Finding the Perfect Food Pairing for This Warm-Season Wine

I once heard “when roses bloom, it’s time to drink rosé.” I think about this every spring, and I feel a tug to drink the pretty pink stuff, especially since spring has warmed the ground and the heat of summer is right around the corner.

Last month I wrote about pairing wine with grilled foods. I mentioned that barbecuing with tangy sauces and dry rubs requires a different style of wine, a fruit-forward wine (whether red, white or rosé). For those who do drink rosé, it will be no surprise that this is one of those wines that is great to pair with barbecue. The lighter style of this pink, chilled, super refreshing wine is balanced and fruity, but not sweet (this is not a white zin).

If you haven’t had a rosé, imagine a mouth-watering pinot grigio, but instead of tropical fruits or bursts of pineapple and lemon, there are notes of ripe wild strawberries, fresh cherries and salted watermelon, all balanced by acidity and structured with subtle earthy notes. In fact, rosé is one of those rare wines that can pair with a wide variety of foods: fish salads, grilled meats, anything barbecued, picnic foods (cheese, fruit, meats and olives), a wide variety of vegetables, spicy foods and ethnic foods.

Because this wine is diverse, is pretty to look at and is easy to drink, rosé gets lots of attention as a go-to summer fav. All that being said, I should confess, I very rarely drink rosé! If it is a warm spring or summer day, you’ll probably find me sipping on a white Bordeaux, a dry German or Italian white or a Southern Rhone red blend.

So this month I challenged myself… with what foods could I honestly say that a rosé would be so stunning that I would reach for it over all the others? I was looking for a fabulous food-wine pairing that only a rosé in all its pink glory could pull off. To examine further, I needed a variety of rosé-friendly foods, my favorite wine-drinking buddy and three fantastic bottles chilled and ready to drink.

I selected a sparkling rosé from South Africa and a couple of still Italian Rosatos, both light, dry and delicious. For the food, we had picnic cheeses with apples, strawberries and olives. We also had goat cheese crostini topped with smoked trout, fresh ground pepper and fennel. There was a barbecue beef and pork burger with pineapple barbecue sauce. I made a plate of paprika and garlic sautéed shrimp. And finally, I stuffed prunes with Nduja (spreadable spicy pork salumi, which has a similar flavor to spicy andouille or chorizo).

Not surprising, all of the rosés were pleasant and tasty with pretty much all of the food. We especially enjoyed the sparkling rosé with the picnic foods and the still rosés with the burger, paprika shrimp and olives. But that stunning, irreplaceable moment where the record scratches to a halt and your eyes widen as you slow down to savor every bit of flavor from the wine and the food… was with the spicy pork stuffed prunes. The flavor combination was incredible — sweet, salty, hot and umami.

The still Italian rosés not only stood up to these intense flavors, it was like they got up and danced around (in our mouth). And let me tell you, it is a rare feat for a wine to not get obliterated by spicy foods. My mind started racing to all my favorite spicy dishes that these rosés would dance around the room with… spicy paella, winter chili, nachos, jambalaya, and chorizo tacos and anything with legitimate heat, or that I can add heat to, and I smiled. I found my answer, this is when the rosé is absolutely stunning.

It is no secret in my house that I love spicy foods. I love to grow hot peppers in the garden, harvest them, line them all up and slice them, and carefully test the flavor of each one as my eyes happily tear and burn. I love helping Craig make another year’s worth of hot sauces that I add to soups, salsas and yogurt, all winter long. And I had gotten used to the fact that most wines couldn’t stand up to or at least beautifully pair with my spicy foods, and I never blamed them.

On a recent trip to Kansas City, I stopped by this awesome Mexican grocery store, Bonito Michoacán. I waited in a line that went out the door for some authentic, delicious grub. When I sat down with my tacos, on my table was a bowl of dried peppers that I carefully sampled and then ungracefully washed down with my Michelada (beer and tomato juice).

I remember thinking what a great pairing the tomato beer was with the hot peppers and my spicy tacos. I also remember thinking there wasn’t a wine that could hang with that kind of heat. But now I know better, another lesson learned. And honestly, in my life, I hope there will always be heated surprises lingering around the corner that I may or may not be able to handle. But for my next spicy food moment, I am definitely grabbing the nearest bottle of rosé, and I hope you do too.

Sarah’s top picks:
Graham Beck Sparkling Rosé, South
Africa; Bastianich Rosato, Italy